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What Is a Pediatric Dentist?

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on July 07, 2021

Cavities, or dental caries, are the most common chronic disease in children. Experts estimate more than 50% of kids have cavities in their primary teeth. The condition is five times more common than asthma.

But here's some good news — this illness is preventable, and there's a specific group of dental professionals who can help. 

Pediatric dentists, also called pedodontists, specialize in diagnosing and treating dental problems in infants, children, and teenagers. They focus on the unique dental issues that can develop in the gums, teeth, and jaw as the body develops and grows. 

Children develop their primary teeth within the first six months of life. Baby teeth start to fall out around age six or seven and are replaced with adult or secondary teeth. Although baby teeth don't follow children into adulthood, it's important to start caring for them early. A lack of proper dental care can lead to decay and disease that lasts a lifetime. 

Taking your child to see a pediatric dentist by age one ensures they'll have the proper screening and treatment to prevent future dental problems.

What Does a Pediatric Dentist Do?

Pediatric dentists provide comprehensive oral health care designed to meet the needs of growing children and teenagers. They provide: 

  • Oral health exams 
  • Teeth cleaning and fluoride treatments 
  • Diagnosis and early treatment to straighten teeth or correct an improper bite
  • Cavity removal
  • Repair for dental injuries like fractured, displaced teeth
  • Gum disease management to prevent pediatric periodontal disease 
  • Early detection of oral health conditions resulting from diabetes, asthma, hay fever, and ADHD 

Education and Training

Pediatric dental training requires years of education and clinical experience. Candidates must receive a bachelor's degree, complete dental school, and pass a series of dental certification exams to become a licensed Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD).

Graduate students then enroll in a residency program. They may choose to train in one or more of the following specialties: 

After completing the residency program, candidates are required to take a series of exams to receive board-certification through the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CDA). This certification is available in all 50 states.

Reasons to See a Pediatric Dentist

Oral health plays an important role in overall health. The mouth, which is the entry point to the rest of your body, is full of bacteria. Some are harmless, but certain germs can cause disease. Establishing good dental habits, like brushing and flossing, keeps excess bacteria under control and prevents infections in the mouth and other parts of the body.

Consistent dental care is especially important for children, who are growing every day. 

Pediatric dentists teach parents and kids the importance of creating good habits to last a lifetime. They also diagnose and treat diseases in infants and children or all ages, and specialize in working with kids who have special health needs. 

What to Expect at the Pediatric Dentist

A visit to the dentist is different for children. Unlike adults, they can't always sit still and cooperate during a dental exam or teeth cleaning. Pediatric dentists understand this and specialize in making treatments more comfortable. A pediatric dental office has special equipment and decorations that appeal to younger patients. 

Doctors recommend taking your child to the dentist 6 months after their first tooth appears, or 12 months at the latest. The first visit typically lasts between 30 and 45 minutes, and the type of exam and treatment depends on a child's age. 

During a routine oral health exam with a pediatric dentist, you can expect:

  • A brief discussion of your child's oral health, brushing, and flossing habits
  • A complete examination to check the growth of the teeth, gums, jaws, bite, and surrounding oral tissues
  • Teeth polishing and cleaning to remove any plaque, tartar, or stains 

Pediatric dentists don't X-ray baby teeth unless they suspect tooth decay or need to examine the root of a baby tooth. It's best that young children do not have X-rays unless it's medically necessary. 

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

American Academy of Pediatrics: “What is a Pediatric Dentist?” 

American Student Dental Association: “Pediatric Dentistry.” 

Commission on Dental Accreditation: “Accreditation Standards for Advanced Dental Education Programs in Pediatric Dentistry.” 

Doctorly: “How to Become A Pediatric Dentist.”

Harvard School of Dental Medicine: “Pediatric Dentistry.”

Mayo Clinic: “Oral health: A window to your overall health.” 

Pediatric Oral Health Research & Policy Center: “The Importance of the Age One Dental Visit.” 

Stanford Children's Health: “A Child's First Dental Visit Fact Sheet.”

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